Success Stories: Marshland on Reclaimed Shoreline: Sonoma Baylands

Caroline Warner and Rich Stallcup

Much of the historic marshland in the North Bay was diked from the Bay and drained in the late 19th century for farming oat hay and other crops. From 1991 to 1996, the State Coastal Conservancy and the Sonoma Land Trust conceived and developed the Sonoma Baylands Project to restore tidal marsh on 320 acres. This pioneering project of wetland creation used dredged materials from navigation channels to jump-start the restoration.

While it took many years to establish, the site now boasts large numbers of shorebirds (sometimes as many as 18,000 individuals), with at least 23 species amassing on the mud before and after high tides. As rising water pushes the birds off these restored bay mudflats, they pause at the Baylands for a last frantic forage before moving to upland habitats where they rest and preen until the tide begins to drop again. During high tide in the winter, 18 species of ducks and geese have been recorded in the aquatic habitats within the Sonoma Baylands. With its ability to attract large populations of wading birds, the site is also attractive to diurnal raptors including Merlin, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons. Surveys for endangered California Clapper Rails by PRBO biologists since 2008 have documented their presence, along with Black Rails, in the restored Sonoma Baylands.

The restoration of Sonoma Baylands has enhanced opportunities for San Pablo and San Francisco Bays’ wildlife, especially birds, in ways only dreamed of 30 years ago.